Favourite Picture Books to Find Under the Tree

You can’t go wrong with a book.

That’s been my motto forever, and especially during the holiday season. While it can be challenging to find that perfect gift – especially for younger children – I find that there’s nothing like giving a stack of books to your favourite littles, and curling up to read them before bedtime. Here, then, are some of my suggestions for what you might want to share under the tree.

seagullSteven Seagull: Action Hero has been dismissed from the Beach City force for being too much of a renegade. However, when sand starts mysteriously disappearing all over the beach, he’s called back to help his partner Mac the Goldfish and the rest of the team.

This hilarious action-packed picture book comes to us from Elys Dolan, the creator of Weasels. Quirky illustrations give us sharks playing volleyball, a goldfish driving a speedboat, crabs building sandcastles and some fantastic side notes that will appeal to the grown ups as much as to the kids. This is one that you won’t mind reading again and again at bedtime, because you’ll find something new every time you look at the page.

Oxford University Press, ISBN: 9780192738707, 32 pages. A copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. It may be purchased from your friendly indie bookseller or from your favourite bookstore. 

narwhalMove over, Elephant and Piggy – Narwhal and Jelly may be my new favourites. Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea is the latest work from Ben Clanton (he of Mo’s Mustache fame). Neither really believes that the other is real, but they are perfectly happy to be friends and to hang out together eating waffles and having dance parties.

The illustrations are simple and engaging, and the story lines reiterates the power and joy to be found in friendship and imagination. There are also short fun fact sheets sprinkled throughout the book, and the division into three separate graphic stories means that early readers can read the book on their own at their own pace without feeling overwhelmed. Teachers could use the stories as a launching pad for further activities and adventures with their students. The best part? Book two will be out next year!

Tundra Books, a division of Penguin Random House of Canada, ISBN: 9781101918265, 64 pages. It is available now and may be purchased from your friendly indie bookseller, online or from your favourite bookstore. 

gryphonSam has just received a hamster as her very first pet. There’s only one problem: he’s not terribly interesting, and Sam can’t help but wonder what might happen “If I Had A Gryphon“. Vikki Vansickle is best known for her middle grade novels, but her first picture book is a delight, and Cale Atkinson’s whimsical and Sendak-ian illustrations complement the text perfectly. 

I’ve been proclaiming my adoration for this book since the early days. This is a great read for those who are not quite old enough for the worlds of Fantastic Beast and Harry Potter, while still providing enough magical creatures to stock a mythical zoo. Children will be inspired to create their own magical pets, or even to provide magical elements to current well-loved beasties. Parents and educators will enjoy the pacing and rhythm of the story, and there are lots of fine details in the book to keep everyone engaged, including a fun twist at the end (who said hamsters were boring, anyway?). Highly recommended!

Tundra Books, a division of Penguin Random House of Canada, ISBN: 9781770498099, 32 pages. It is available now and may be purchased from your friendly indie bookseller, online or from your favourite bookstore.

ada-twistAda Twist, Scientist is insatiably curious and imaginative – and totally fearless with her experiments! Her parents are at a loss to understand her exploratory nature, until they come to realize that her inquisitive mind is one of Ada’s best qualities. 

Part of the wonderful series that includes Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer (both of whom make an appearance in this book!), this picture book reinforces the importance of exploration, of making a mess (and correspondingly, cleaning it up) and of not letting your quest for knowledge interfere with other people’s property or rights (poor cat!). The fabulously diverse illustrations are again created by David Roberts, and show an amazing attention to detail. I can’t wait for the next book in the series.

Harry N. Abrams, ISBN: 9781419721373, 32 pages. It is available now and may be purchased from your friendly indie bookseller, online or from your favourite bookstore.

they-all-saw“The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . .”  I was first introduced to Brendan Wenzel and his brilliant book, They All Saw A Cat back in the spring. Using imagination, perspective and some really intriguing illustrations, the book takes us through the experiences of different animals and creatures as a cat walks past. Each creature sees something different, based not  only on their physical sight by also by their emotions and relationship to the cat. In every case, however, they all saw a cat. In some cases, the cat is seen by some as a single object (fur, eyes), by others as a threat or by another as a delicious something to eat. Perspective is everything.

What’s so amazing about this book is that it introduces young readers to the idea that we all look at things differently, depending on what we bring to the experience. The illustrations are fascinating and varied, and reflect the creature’s point of view.  This book is a must for any teacher attempting to teach perspective, empathy and point-of-view.

Chronicle Books, ISBN: 9781452150130, 44 pages. It is available now and may be purchased from your friendly indie bookseller or from your favourite bookstore

king-baby“I am King Baby,” proclaims the tiny monarch/dictator in Kate Beaton’s latest picture book. Much like her previous hit, The Princess and the Pony (also a highly recommended selection!), Beaton’s sly sense of humour and uncannily accurate portrayal of the needs and demands of those tiny humans in our lives makes this an engaging and fun read for parents and children alike. 

What I enjoyed most about this one, however, was how Beaton, very cleverly worked in the inevitable process of growing up into King Baby’s burgoning demands. We watch him become more imperious even as he becomes more autonomous, and eventually he’s just fed up enough to do it himself… just in time for another tiny despot to make an appearance. Younger readers will delight in connecting with King Baby and his commands, especially as it provides parents and caregivers a chance to share their baby stories at the same time. 

Arthur A. Levine Books, distributed by Scholastic Canada, ISBN: 9780545637541, 40 pages. It is available now and may be purchased from your friendly indie bookseller or from your favourite bookstore

steadfast“There were once five-and-twenty tin soldiers. They were all brothers, born of the same old tin spoon. . . . All looked exactly alike except one…”

The Steadfast Soldier is a classic tale by Hans Christen Anderson, this time retold and illustrated by JooHee Yoon. As with the original, this is a tale of longing and loss, of adventure, of drama and ultimately, of a tragically fulfilled love story. I remember reading another version as a child and being drawn into this tale of good and evil and love triumphant, while being slightly horrified and fascinated by turns with the dark ending. 

Yoon’s brilliant illustrations in vibrant reds, black and silvers captures the starkness of the story about a one legged soldier who looks longingly at his true love, the ballerina. When he is taken from her and thrown into new adventures, he remains true to her and is inevitably reunited (however briefly) with his love. The harsh lines and vibrant reds and silvers show off the soldier’s uniform, the insides of the fish when he is swallowed whole and the fire that ultimately consumes them both. While not a bedtime book, this is a darkly beautiful story of being different, finding acceptance, and the power of steadfast love and determination.

Enchanted Lion Books, distributed by PGC Books, ISBN: 9781592702022, 64 pages. It is available now now and may be purchased from your friendly indie bookseller or from your favourite bookstore

journeyWe live in difficult times. There are so many families who are in transition right now, and the holidays are especially hard for refugee families who may be facing their first holidays without beloved members of their extended family nearby. The Journey by Francesca Sanna is an emotional look at how a family’s life changes so drastically as they are forced to flee their home for a chance at a better life elsewhere. 

Beautiful, vivid art pieces showcase not only the actions of the family, but the emotions so clearly at the surface within every person. On one page, darkness is a menacing force that threatens everyone except the mother who guards her children while they sleep, tears falling from her eyes. Told from a child’s point of view, The Journey explores each stage beginning with happier times, and includes the reality of the loss of their father and their mother’s own fears before ultimately reiterating their determination to survive. Guards come across as wild creatures, war is a dark mass that slowly takes over everything in its path and the journey is fraught with dangers. There is no happy ending for this book; instead, Sanna leaves us wondering about the fate of this displaced family, even as know that they will do anything to survive. This is one of those picture books that transcends age, and that could be used by any teacher to explore and discuss the concept of migration and the lives of refugees. Powerful and moving, and terribly timely. 

Enchanted Lion Books, distributed by PGC Books, ISBN: 9781909263994, 48 pages. It is available now now and may be purchased from your friendly indie bookseller or from your favourite bookstore.